Miami Heat

Five takeaways: As Heat hits midway point at 21-20, the leap Justise Winslow has made is real

Justise Winslow comments on the Heat’s win against the Memphis Grizzlies

Miami Heat's Justise Winslow comments on the win against the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.
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Miami Heat's Justise Winslow comments on the win against the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.

Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 112-108 win over the Memphis Grizzlies (19-23) on Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena. Miami is 21-20 at the midway point of the season.

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1. Justise Winslow continues to prove he’s taken a big step in his fourth NBA season. The 22-year-old was already considered an above average defender, but he’s shown off a much improved offensive game since taking over as the Heat’s starting point guard with Goran Dragic out because of a right knee injury.

That growth was on display again Saturday, as Winslow finished with a team-high 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field and 4-of-4 shooting from three-point range, to go with seven rebounds and four assists.

“I was just being aggressive, taking what they give me,” Winslow said. “That’s anybody. Anybody on this team gets an open shot, we expect you to take it with confidence. We all think it’s going in, so I was just taking the shots that were given to me. The looks were just there. We shot them with confidence and they went down tonight.”

Winslow is averaging 14.7 points on 47.4 percent shooting from the field and 41.3 percent shooting on threes, to go with 5.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 19 games since the start of December.

For a player who entered his fourth NBA season with career averages of 7.5 points and two assists, it’s obvious something has clicked for Winslow recently on the offensive end. He’s now finished with double-digit points in 10 consecutive games, which is his longest double-digit point streak since he was playing at Duke.

“He puts in a great deal of time on his game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Winslow. “I have him playing at a new position right now and he’s learning it and gobbling up all the information night to night, and striking that balance of getting us organized and learning when to be aggressive. Tonight in the first half, there was a need for him to be more aggressive.”

Winslow also owns a team-best plus-minus of plus-120 since the start of December. Derrick Jones Jr. is a distant second, as the Heat has outscored opponents by 68 points with Jones playing during this span.

While Winslow’s strong play has lasted for over a month, he’s recently improved his efficiency with the ball in his hands as the Heat’s point guard. He’s recorded 39 assists to eight turnovers over the past six games for an impressive assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.9 during this stretch.

“The hardest thing for the average fan to understand and the thing that I’m very demanding on him about is the stat line might look a little bit different each game,” Spoelstra said. “It’s 26 [points] tonight and the seven rebounds. The next game, what might be required is 10 or 12 assists and to be able to read the opponent, read the game and read what’s going on. But he has that kind of mind to be able to develop that.”

Miami Heat's Josh Richardson comments on Dwyane Wade and defeating the Grizzlies at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019.

2. Dwyane Wade helped save the Heat with his scoring when adversity struck Thursday against the Celtics. The future Hall of Famer saved the Heat again Saturday, this time with his ... leaping ability.

At 36 years old, Wade can still change games with his shot-blocking ability. With the Heat ahead 110-108, Wade blocked Shelvin Mack’s game-tying layup attempt with four seconds remaining to force a jump ball.

Wade won the jump ball and tipped it to Josh Richardson, who went on to make two free throws with 1.1 seconds remaining after being intentionally fouled. Those free throws put the Heat ahead by four and clinched the victory.

“Just looking for the gap and looking for the matchup, so I knew that J-Rich had a smaller guy on him,” Wade said of the jump ball. “I think I mustered everything I had to jump, to get that jump ball and I just wanted to tap it over and give J-Rich a chance against a smaller guard.”

It’s these timely plays that make Wade, who finished Saturday’s game with 10 points and five assists in 25 minutes off the bench, so valuable to the Heat.

“It just adds layers to his Hall of Fame career,” Richardson said. “It’s good for us to be able to watch that and learn from it, knowing that it’s not just one end of the court. The way he closed the game today and the way he always usually finishes the game is top 10, top 15 all-time.”

Wade has recorded the second-most regular-season blocks among guards in NBA history. He’s blocked 865 shots over his 16-year career, which is only behind Michael Jordan’s 893 blocks.

“Just inserting him back into the game, it’s hard to explain,” Spoelstra said of Wade. “There’s no analytic for it. Your team just has a great sense of confidence when you have a Hall of Famer on the court.”

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3. As Spoelstra continues to look for the right rotation, the Heat used 10 players against the Grizzlies. With 12 available — Hassan Whiteside (ill) and Goran Dragic (right knee surgery) were out — the only active Heat players who did not get in the game were Wayne Ellington and Udonis Haslem.

Spoelsta used a starting lineup of Winslow, Richardson, Rodney McGruder, James Johnson and Bam Adebayo. Wade, Jones., Tyler Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Dion Waiters played off the bench.

Miami used 11 in Thursday’s win over the Celtics (the 10 it used Saturday plus Whiteside), and it might have done the same Saturday if Whiteside was available against the Grizzlies. But even when playing 10 or 11, it doesn’t mean equal minutes across the board.

Olynyk was the odd man out against Boston, as he was limited to five minutes of court time with the Celtics using small switchable and quick lineups for most of the game. Spoelstra turned to athletic options like Jones and Adebayo to play the majority of the second half against the Celtics.

On Saturday, it was Waiters who played just 10 minutes. James Johnson and McGruder also played fewer minutes than usual, with each one logging 14 minutes of court time.

This time, it was Tyler Johnson (28 minutes), Olynyk (25 minutes), Wade (25 minutes) and Jones (18 minutes) who played extended minutes off the Heat’s bench.

That’s one of the luxuries Spoelstra has coaching this roster. It’s hard to find a set rotation because there is a logjam of rotation players. But because there isn’t a set combination, it allows Spoelstra to tweak the Heat’s rotation from game to game based on the opponent and who’s playing well.

4. After making a season-high 18 threes in Thursday’s win over the Celtics, the Heat’s hot shooting from deep carried over into Saturday’s game.

Miami made 15 of 31 threes against Memphis, outscoring the Grizzlies 45-27 from behind the arc.

Some would credit this to the law of averages after the Heat made just 22 of 94 three-pointers (23.4 percent) in the three games that preceded this two-game stretch.

It can be as simple as just making threes sometimes. It definitely helped in Saturday’s four-point win over Memphis, and an 8-of-31 night from three-point range hurt in a four-point loss to Denver on Tuesday.

5. The Heat already has too many losses to losing teams this season, but it took care of business against the Grizzlies.

After the Heat defeated the talented Celtics on Thursday for one of its most impressive wins of the season, it could have had a letdown game against the struggling Grizzlies. Miami has had too many of those letdown games this season, as recently as Sunday in a blowout loss to the rebuilding Hawks.

Memphis entered with just three wins in its past 14 games and Miami entered with an underwhelming 9-9 record against teams below .500. But the Heat found a way to escape with the much-needed win, with a four-game trip up next.

“Great win for us,” Wade said. “I’m not concerned with leads going up and down because in this league it’s so easy for people to come back with the way guys are shooting the three ball nowadays, but things can just go wrong when they start getting calls to go their way and certain things. It’s about picking up wins in the second half of the season by any means necessary, so great team win here at home before we go on the road.”

Miami has won eight of its past 10 games against losing teams after a rough start to the season in this department.

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.